Alex took a sip of her champagne, skirting the upper level in the Hall of Ocean Life. She moved closer to the rail and rested her flute on the top of it, peering down at the Who’s Who of the tri-state area. In her line of work, she attended countless affairs like this, but never glimpsed the old world royalty rumored to be hosting this event. Scanning the crowd, Alex tried to pick out who the Royals might be. No one stood out. They all were the same to her: old, wealthy and, above all, fake.
A commotion at the Central Park West entrance to the hall had all eyes turning that direction. Alex’s gaze locked on the tall blonde walking through the doorway. She couldn’t believe her luck. Jared Bonatelli, the man who had consumed every iota of her workday, waltzed in like he owned the place. His laughter was swallowed up by the crowd surrounding him. The dark haired man with him was definitely annoyed. It figured, she called it the moment Gene handed her the folder; he was a spoiled, rich, handsome and egotistical jerk. He was most likely the cause of his companion’s scowl. Her first impressions of someone were never wrong.
Jared paused. The dark haired man spun toward him and spoke. Jared listened and began to laugh harder. His friend, seemingly disgusted with the whole exchange, gave Jared one last glare and stalked off toward the far exit, heading further into the Museum.
Jared watched Zephyr walk away. The man needed to lighten up. It wasn’t his fault they were suckered into attending, just dumb luck. It’d be better for them to relax, have a few drinks, and make an effort to enjoy the night. Well, if Zephyr wouldn’t make the effort, he’d make the sacrifice and do it.
He nodded a greeting to the Mayor and his wife. A waitress balancing a tray of flutes filled with Cristal passed them. Jared lifted a glass free. She continued by, with a simple curving of her lips, and slipped something in his pocket. He gave her a smirk and removed the paper from his pocket, placing it on her tray.
She stopped and pouted at him. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”
“No, I can’t, but I’m not in the market for a woman who throws herself at me. I’m not that kind of guy.”
She laughed. “Mr. Bonatelli, that’s not what I’ve heard. I’ll have you know, I’m the best you’re going to get in this dried up crowd. Your loss.” She shrugged and inclined her head to Zephyr. He raised his glass in silent salute. With a swish of her hips, the waitress casually made her way through the crowd, slipping the note in an unsuspecting Senator’s pocket.
Jared narrowed his eyes at the vampire and took a swig from his glass. Leave it to Zephyr to try and get him laid tonight. A pressure built on the back of his neck, the feeling of being watched. Jared’s eyes roamed over the crowd, but no one seemed to be paying him any mind. Still, the feeling nagged at him. He scanned the upper level of the hall and the feeling vanished. How odd.
Alex stepped back, out of Jared’s gaze. She didn’t want him noticing her, not yet. She took another step out of sight and bumped into someone.
“Watch it, you useless cow!”
The voice behind her held nothing but venom. Alex cringed. This was so not good.
“I’m speaking to you. Weren’t you ever taught to face the person talking to you?”
Alex blinked. What in the world?
She pivoted to meet the woman behind her and came face to face with the coldest set of citrine colored eyes she had ever seen. The woman snarled. Alex’s apology died on her lips. Were those fangs? No, it couldn’t be.
“Are you dumb as well as deaf? Look at what you’ve done to my gown! It’s absolutely ruined. If this was the old country, I’d have your heart for dinner for this insult!” She waved her hands at her bodice, if one considered a sheer piece of ribbon barely covering her breasts a bodice. The cloth was thoroughly soaked.
Old country? Alex’s mouth went dry. She is one of the royals in attendance? It couldn’t be. “I’m so sorry. It was clumsy of me. Please let me take care of it.” She withdrew a business card from her clutch purse and tried to hand it to the blonde. The woman slapped it away.
“I don’t want you to take care of it.” She sneered. “You couldn’t even afford one of my shoes. Get out of my sight. Out of this Museum. You are no longer welcome here.”
The woman leaned in close, her eyes glowing. “I mean it, human. Leave.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and stalked off. Two leather-clad men followed in her wake.
Alex stared after her. Well, that didn’t go well. How was she supposed to explain this one to Gene? By the way, I got a line on Bonatelli, but I had to abandon it. Why? Oh, only so I could avoid an international incident and keep my life. No biggie. Losing her lead and getting kicked out of the gala would endear her to her boss. Not.
“Don’t take it personally. Absinthe takes a lot of getting used to. She’s kind of like Hannah Montana with fangs and venom.” A deep voice murmured in her right ear.
Alex whirled around and met the most electrifying blue eyes she’d ever seen. She pinched the back of her hand to make sure she hadn’t passed out and was dreaming. The man’s photos did him no justice. Her jaw began working, but no words came out of her mouth. A goldfish had nothing on her. Truthfully, she did feel like a fish out of water surrounded by all the frilly and fancy people. Seeing him in the flesh only made matters worse.
Jared’s brows drew together. “Are you ok? You seem a little shaken up. Don’t let her get to you, being a bitch is an art form for her.”
She tried to find humor at his attempt to lighten the situation, but she was mesmerized by his eyes. Alex felt lightheaded, had to be the champagne on an empty stomach. Or it was the stress her boss planted on her shoulders. What a combination. She swayed back. A strong hand took hold of her elbow and an arm snaked around her waist, supporting her weight. She sagged against him and felt her legs being swept off the floor just before the world started to fade.
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